Caged by force, entrapped by discourse : a study of the construction and control of children and their sexualities within residential children's homes.
Through empirical, qualitative research and theorisation of the associated
findings, this thesis investigates how certain children's homes may
operate, making specific reference to sexuality and sexual abuse issues.
Two children's homes in two different local authorities were researched
via ethnographic research over a two year period. This involved utilising
participant observation techniques in conjunction with formal interviews
and documentary analysis. The documentary analysis entailed analysing
logbooks, care plans and policy or practice documents around residential
care and sexuality. The number of interviews conducted as part of the
ethnographic fieldwork totalled 39 and the interviewees were comprised
of residential workers, managers, social workers and children. This
fieldwork was supplemented by 64 non-ethnographic interviews with
residential staff, ex residents and other relevant personnel such as HIV
workers. Both contemporaneous and historical practices and perspectives
were evaluated, information about historical practices being drawn from
interviews with some workers and ex-residents and from analysis of past
documents in the ethnographic studies. Overall information was gained
about over 100 different settings and 14 different local authorities. The
empirical work commenced in 1994 and was concluded in 1997.
Additionally media documents relating to scandals surrounding the
sexual abuse of children in these settings were analysed.
Children's homes are 'last resort' residential settings that children,
predominantly abused teenagers, or those with behavioural problems are
placed in by local authorities. Although the monolithic Victorian
poorhouses and asylums were their historical predecessors, contemporary
children's homes are now becoming increasingly smaller and many are
intra community located.
Despite assumptions by some commentators that these settings are no
longer institutionalised this research showed the converse; many typically
incorporating most of the characteristics delineated by Goffman (1961) as
defining 'total institutions'. These features included isolation, uniform
treatment of residents, rigid regimes, an emphasis on surveillance and
control, and divisive child and staff cultures. These institutionalised
settings intensified both the potential for, and the actual occurrence of,
sexual and other forms of abuse of children by peers, staff and outsiders.
Local authorities perpetuated the abuse not only by inadequate training,
policies and support but often by failing to investigate allegations or follow
them through thorough! y.
The social construction of childhood induding child and adolescent,
gendered sexuality, affected how children were perceived both generally
and with regard to sexuality in these settings. This led to a protectionist,
paternalist stance towards children in care which allowed them little voice
and few rights.
The sexual beliefs, behaviour and responses of both children and staff were
also examined in a deconstructionist manner which revealed the
impossibility of separating sexuality from notions of either sex or gender.
Sexed, sexualised and gendered behaviour was therefore shown to be
performative and also subject to interiorisation, although simultaneously
incorporating massive anomalies and instabilities.
Both the notions of performative gender and institutionalisation were
then broadened and evaluated in terms of a wider analysis of power. The
institutionalisation and stigmatisation of children in children's homes
was shown to be linked at micro, meza and macro levels with concepts of
class, dangerousness and deviance. The sexual beliefs and behaviour of
staff, children and the organisations they are embedded within was also
found not only to be influenced by the settings and organisations
themselves but by wider, gendered, legal, social and psychological
structures, laws and discourses.